Ten minutes into MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, the character of Dhoni’s mother looks at her sleeping 10-year-old son with a smile and says to her husband,”My son is not someone who is going to be satisfied with small achievements, he is destined for bigger things”. As she was saying it, I realized what kind of movie this was turning into, and it was something I was really not looking forward to. It is precisely these kinds of cliched ‘masala’ dialogues, bundled with numerous other unrealistic details that make MS Dhoni: The Untold Story a travesty, instead of what could have been a great biopic for a great man, a man who really deserves one.
If there is something to be appreciated here, then it’s that the movie has got its heart in the right place. It wants to convey Dhoni’s struggle to get where he is today, and it manages to successfully educate me about his challenges. Only educate me, never affect me. The movie does have a few memorable scenes in the first half, and the opening scene at the 2011 Cricket World Cup dressing room, is the perfect way to open such a movie.
First, there is no feeling in the movie. I came out after watching the movie with the awareness of Dhoni’s struggles and achievements but never personally affected by it. This can be ascribed to the movie’s mere mention of the sequence of events in Dhoni’s life, never fully sinking into an issue but briskly moving on to the next one. It takes more than this to keep a viewer invested in a movie. There is no tension during the games, there is no fear of failure. There is not even a scene for when Dhoni meets the Indian team for the first time.
Second, I must admit I was expecting a realistic movie, that lacked the typical masala of bollywood movies and dealt with issues in very pragmatic ways. Unfortunately, the movie is nowhere near what I was hoping. The acting and dialogues are very unnatural, and even sometimes, bordering on absurd. The second half sinks to rock bottom, with love songs and two romantic branches that lack feeling and have very little time to develop.
Third, the art of realistic film-making has eluded Neeraj Pandey for a long time and this one is worse than any of his other movies. He always has good stories in his favor, but nothing really feels real in any of his movies. The cinematography is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, with the camera just standing still most of the time. The effort of creating realistic set-pieces with induced flaws for realistic effect is totally missing, everything in the set seems suspiciously perfect and in place. The transition between scenes is terrible in most cases. Whereas in most movies, you don’t realize when a new scene has started, Pandey chooses to end his scenes by going into slow motion, stopping all the music and fading away into black, throwing it in the face of the viewer that the scene has ended. Scenes break into slow-motion for no apparent reason. All of this speaks to Pandey’s inexperience and fails to make the movie feel grounded.
Finally, there are flaws in every human being and the fact that the movie shows Dhoni as the epitome of perfection, without delving into any of his flaws, and choosing only to deal with the flaws of others that caused him harm, is just disingenuous. Almost every cricket game they show is a swirl of sixes by Dhoni, almost every struggle he is going through is a result of others mistakes. I frankly refuse to buy the “The man can do no wrong” plot.
About a decade ago, a movie called “Chak De India” made a sensational debut. Chak De India is a fictional sports movie that has every thing missing from Dhoni, everything that Dhoni could have been, and it doesn’t have any of the gratuitous masala that Dhoni opts for. There are biopics in Hollywood, most notably Steve Jobs (2015) and The Social Network (2010), that have so much originality, such as their non-linear story-lines, and their portrayals of protagonists as deeply flawed , that MS Dhoni is completely devoid of. I think of what this movie could have been, if handled by a better director, and it makes me wistful. Mahendra Singh Dhoni deserves better than this, but for now we’ll have to settle for this. I will rate this movie 5/10.